Friday, November 30, 2018

Orson Welles on Voice

"Create your own visual style... let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others."

For a lot of new/young filmmakers that is a tall order. They spend too much time and effort trying to copy their heroes (like Spielberg). That model has his or her own "story", a unique background and experience mix.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Orson Welles on Movie Directing

"Movie directing is a perfect refuge for the mediocre."

There certainly is a lot of evidence to support that assertion.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

U.S. Television Commercials Far Superior

Television commercials I generally tune out, much like the programs that frame them, but here's something I noticed a long time ago: TV adverts made in the States seem, at least to this non-believer, to be far superior to those made here in (Toronto) Canada. Why is that?

A few years ago I got a first hand polling result while sitting in a diner. I faced away from the wall-mounted television set but two gentlemen, who sat apart and apparently did not know one another, enjoyed their respective plates while taking in programming from an American network: Commotion, commotion from the CRT; laughter; I looked over to the two viewers; one guy said to the other, "American commercials are so much better", to which the other readily agreed.

We Canadians do not produce stupid people who cannot tell an entertaining story -- look at James Cameron, for one -- but we just cannot make good television commercials. (I exempt Public Service Announcements, and the like.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Ford Quality is Job Won

GM's not less than stunning announcement that it'll cease production at its auto plant in Oshawa, Ontario, next year is disconcerting for many reasons, not the least of which is the apparent loss of 2,500 jobs.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford does not hold a seat at General Motors' head office, but his stance on business is not helpful. Idiotic slogans and road signs proclaiming "Ontario's Open for Business" are one-dimensional at best, and Ford's disdain for the common worker, as exemplified in his freezing of the province's minimum wage, bodes not well for our economic state of affairs.

Unfortunately, we Ontarians will witness a bumbling and simple premier fumble about as he and his maleficent mates try to explain and validate their plans for those essential elements of the social support system: jobs and a realistic minimum wage.

Doug Ford's wholesale cancelling of green energy contracts, for instance, demonstrates a magisterial incompetence in attracting business to this great province.

"Ontario's open for business, you say?"

Monday, November 26, 2018

Avatar, I Call You Over

James Cameron has finished principal photography on two of his long-awaited Avatar sequels? This I learned from an article in today's edition of The Guardian:

Steve Rose on film - Avatar
Break out the blue paint! Will James Cameron’s Avatar sequel tank?

Avatar did not impress me when I saw it in underwhelming and dim 3D at the Scotiabank Theatre here in Toronto, so my anticipation for more Avatar is 1D.

James Cameron's highly successful first in a now chain gang is the most recent narrative film I've seen in a movie house. Did he take the popcorn out of my movies? Perhaps not, but he took the money out of my wallet and gave back to me 162 minutes that I'll never get back.

Thanks for your enlightening piece, Mr Rose.

Good honest cynicism. Very refreshing.

But you're right. We cannot count Cameron out.

Thanks a Bunch

Riders of mass transit systems know about "bunching". No bus for many minutes; then two or more buses all at once; then another multi-minute wait. Fine. It's the big city, after all. Traffic jams are worse; which, of course, can contribute to transit bus bunching.

There's another kind of bunching, which is avoidable: buses that speed and tailgate a lead bus so they don't have to pick up riders. Same goes for streetcars. A few years ago I found myself standing beside a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) inspector while I stirred my coffee in a King Street coffee shop. While chatting with the gentleman I mentioned this curious transit malady. He said: "(The drivers) are supposed to be self-governing." I asked if they all do. He just shook his head gently from side to side.

We think we might have bad bunching at times here in Toronto. As I read this morning in the Boston Globe, it's a big problem in that town.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Status Liberals, In Memoriam

In today's Toronto Sun: A headline to a letter to the editor reads as follows....


I had "Status Liberals"? Did you, dear reader?

Remember the Status Liberals. May they live on in our memories....

Sunday Fun: Darkroom Opening

Darkroom is another cursed feather in my cap; yet another television series that I liked and actually watched but one which ran just one season or less. Less here: seven episodes.

The stories were varied in tone, but the best variance was that of running time. In the one hour a story could be long or short, some really short. In total we saw sixteen stories over the show's limited run. The advantage of flexible length is obvious.

No doubt a big reason Darkroom got left in the dark was due to its anthology nature. The television viewing public, as a whole, demand continuing characters; people they can watch: grow up in front of their eyes; get into trouble with the law; dispensed with at the altar; or reveal a deep and dark secret, even after loads of episodes -- more often than not the shock was unplanned but created by the show writers in an effort to reinvigorate the program. (Diarrhea of the Writers' Room.)

James Coburn with Darkroom's fix, the continuing character. The veteran actor exuded a commanding presence and an authoritative voice, excellent for introducing tales of horrors and thrills.

Red filter.

"Remember Darkroom?...."

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Nicolas Roeg a True Voice

This morning I heard the sad news that cinematographer and director Nicolas Roeg died yesterday; he was 90.

See! Don't Look Now (director - 1973)
See! The Masque of the Red Death (cinematographer - 1964)

There are many more, needless to say, but those examples exemplify the two crafts.

This made me respect the man even more: Roeg couldn’t understand how someone could become a director without first working as a cinematographer.

And more:

“I shoot a lot of stuff. I think that’s probably come from not having gone to film school. Things work themselves out. You’ve lost the showmanship thing, the fairground barker, come-see-what’s-inside aspect of filmmaking when you try to plan everything for the audience.”

Bravo, sir!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Jerry Goldsmith on Creativity and Fear

"I think that the great part of creativity is overcoming fear. Fear is a given. When you sit down and have to begin something, don't be afraid to be filled with fear, because it goes with the turf."

Very true. And it's even worse when one's paid a lot of money to be creative, especially where there's a delivery date.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

John Williams on Jerry Goldsmith

"His chameleon adaptability was a prerequisite to longevity and success in Hollywood. We used to call him Gorgeous. He was the golden boy, a beautiful presence. His music had a freshness, and he had a freshness."

He would know.

Jerry Goldsmith on Writing a Piece of Music

“For me, writing the theme for Star Trek The Motion Picture was the toughest I've ever written, but it was a remarkable achievement.”

And it sounded like nothing else. Musical brilliance.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

John Waters' Career Advice

From September of last year:

Don't I know this:

"You should always have backup careers."

John Waters dispensed that piece of advice last year when he was interviewed by IndieWire journalist Dana Harris. He outlined his other careers besides making films (which he has not done in over ten years): Art shows, articles, books, and speaking tours.

To Repeat Some Career Advice for Me

Advice from March of 2016:

This morning a friend of mine seemed to be a little annoyed after reading a newspaper story on a guy, with less than minimal film & television production experience, who got a decent job on a television series.

My late father, who was "career air force", knew the score for those of us who haboured any pretentions of wanting to work and excel in the film and television business. He dispensed a certain line of sage advice on more than one occasion, even after I had a small record of the Barrie Examiner, Barrie Banner, and CKVR Television doing stories on me and my pals making film. Here it is, made even more relevant now that the wonderful explosion in media technologies allows anyone to make video:

"You have to know how to sell yourself. Stand out from the pack. Otherwise you just get lost in the crowd."

Going Solo For the Moment

A friend said to me on the weekend, "you should watch one of the Disney Star Wars movies". I responded: "I should. Okay. Give me Solo."

This special offer I mentioned to another friend of mine, another friend who is probably bemused I've seen no Star Wars flicks since the painful -- the third and final of three very painful prequel films -- Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. His answer with a laugh: "You picked the worst one."

That I realized this evening, actually last evening as I'm putting this late to bed, not long after I fired up Solo: A Star Wars Story. I made it to the 27 minute mark then shut off the player. (What exactly was that? Someone said "worst"?)

Next episode: "From the 27 minute mark on."

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Designer Checks His Plans

Me in October of 1985 working on a set build in the Graveyard Shift workshop. It's really a matter of holding the architectural ruler against the blueprint to make sure the calculations are right.

That gig was a lot of fun. And I learned a lot. It's true: You make it work. There's never enough time and money, but somehow it all comes together.

Terrific shop crew: Dave Fiacconi, Chris Leger, and Mark Lang.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Fun: The Waltons Opening (1st Season)

I'll admit right off the top that I was not a regular viewer of The Waltons, a very popular television series from many years ago about a fictitious but authentic American rural family from many decades ago. With the general public, however, the long-running series (1972 - 1981) was good family viewing. I caught bits and pieces.

Created by writer, producer, and novelist Earl Hamner, who based the series on his book "Spencer's Mountain" which was based on his experiences growing up in Virginia during the Great Depression, The Waltons was actually an offshoot of "The Homecoming: A Christmas Story", a television movie first broadcast in December of 1971.

The series version caught on to became a television classic. Classy: The catchy and classic theme music.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Canada Geese Grazing in the Spring

I took this picture back in the Spring; no doubt the little ones are now fully grown and down south, with colder temperatures beginning to settle here in Toronto.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Memory of a Stan Lee Creation

I couldn't put it down. Actually I put it, The Amazing Spider-Man #33, down on a table in the base PX's cafeteria at CFB Baden-Soellingen. My dad bought me the comic book minutes earlier after I saw it sitting on the news stand. (For himself he may have grabbed the latest issue of the Stars and Stripes.)

We were living in then West Germany when I cobbled that memory. As I found out many years later, issue 33 was first published in February of 1966, which predates my acquiring the book by a few years. I'm guessing it was a reissue; either that or the distributor had some copies remaining.

About ten years later a friend of mine knew exactly and without hesitation what issue I had read. There were others, and from different franchises, but a story about Spider-Man stuck under machinery in a rapidly flooding compartment was most memorable. And, as Lorne, my comic book authority mate, said, number 33 is a famous issue of Spidey.

Stan Lee, who died on Monday at the age of 95, knew how to spin a story, any size.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Douglas Rain Made HAL 9000

Late Sunday night I heard the sad news that Canadian stage and screen actor Douglas Rain died earlier that day. Not too sad, however, as he lived to 90 years of age. As I wrote in July, I am a big fan of Stanley Kubrick's stellar-opus 2001: A Space Odyssey. In among many essential and memorable elements of that classic film is the character of HAL 9000, voiced to marvelous effect by Rain.

Kubrick had decided early on in 2001's development that he wanted the narrator of Universe, a National Film Board of Canada short subject already influential in the look of his own production, but the Canadian thespian was booked solid. The perfectionist director tested several other voice boxes, including the one belonging to actor Martin Balsam, but he could not get rid of  his first notion. As it turned out, more due to 2001's protracted production schedule than anything else, Rain became available and movie history was made.

Douglas Rain was "Hal". We Canadians tend to speak a mid-Atlantic English; perfectly suited for a soft-robotic voice, and Stanley Kubrick understood that.

The super-computer (on his own mission) had many memorable lines, but this is one of my favourites:

"Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over."

And the line that tells the audience the Discovery's computer has turned into a little creep:

"Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye."

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Film Design: Tights and Fights Set Rough Layout

Once a designer gets the brief on what the set is and what size it should be in keeping with the show's budget, it's a matter of sketching out some basic concepts. In the case of Major Faultline's spaceship bridge it would consist basically of two wings or walls. So as not to be looking into a corner I added a third but smaller section. It went from there.

Above is my rough of the plan view (looking down at the set) and a basic front-on.

From there I developed the detailing in addition to locking down the exact dimensions of the set's structure.

Tight's and Fights was a web series produced between 2010 and 2012.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Film Design: Thumbnails for a Desert Place

The above sketches of a barren land are for a film project I am working on. Where they lead shows in the final production. (I'll upload the intermediate drawings after the short is complete.)

These thumbnails were not done on a paper napkin in a greasy spoon, but rather in my pocket sketchbook in a coffee shop.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

23 Fraser Avenue, Toronto - A Production Centre

The building has since been refaced, but 23 Fraser Avenue carries many memories for me as it was one my places of employment for a few years. When I started working there in late 1994 it was packed to the gills with various production and media companies. It seemed every nook and cranny was put to good rental use. The primary tenant was Film Opticals of Canada Ltd., for which I worked, often into the wee hours of the morning shooting film and composites.

In the back of the building were two soundstages: 23 FPS Studios 1 and 2. (I utilized both stages for principal photography on Hyper-Reality, my uncompleted 35mm short film.)

For a while I had an office at the front of the building -- cheap rent at the time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Photo Graph: Varsity Stadium Track to CN Tower

A Few Good Men - Prime Ministers of Canada

A picture from 1967 featuring Liberal Party of Canada politicians: Pierre Trudeau; John Turner; then prime minister Lester B. Pearson; and Jean Chrétien.

Trudeau, Turner, and Chrétien would become prime ministers of this great country.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Last House on the Left

The U.S. midterm elections are today. There is only one outcome:

* If  President Donald Trump keeps the House of Representatives, he is a "genius".

* If the Democrats win back the House, it's because of "voter fraud".

Monday, November 5, 2018

Some Show Called God Friended Me

An advert reminded me yesterday that had I managed to watch one of those newfangled one-hour dramatic television series' of very little weight: God Friended Me.

About twenty minutes into the program I realized I'd seen this before. It's essentially a new version of Highway to Heaven, Michael Landon's family-friendly series from the 1980s, with some minor changes.

While it's nice to see people of colour in the main cast, the continuing characters read as flat -- in this one episode I've seen, of course. And it stops at one.

I can claim to have seen no more than a couple of episodes of Highway to Heaven but at the time I felt it had some style. There was some filmmaking evident in that five-year mission. God Friended Me carries that snappy dullness so prevalent in series television today.

"Oh, don't forget to wrap up with a song!" That's it. When you have absolutely nothing to say, put in a song! (Where's David Rose when you need him?)

God it was bad.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sunday Fun: Project U.F.O. Opening

A "mid-season replacement" series, Project U.F.O. satiated those viewers who were into tales of space visitors. The NBC series premiered in February of 1978 to some fanfare, and I was there.

Project U.F.O. was a Jack Webb production, and to make sure there was no mistake who was behind this series, the man himself narrated the opening titles with his trademarked voice and authoritative, and dry as toast, diction.

A typical episode featured stars William Jordan and Caskey Swaim (or the second season's Edward Winter) investigating a UFO sighting. Over the television hour the U.S. Air Force's intrepid special team would interview each individual, who in turn, would recount their story of the event; in Rashomon-like fashion, but without outright contradiction (they did witness something not of this Earth, after all), we'd see essentially the same sequence but with variations based on that person's perspective.

Now that I think about it, the show could be dull at times, even if stories of Unidentified Flying Objects were "in" back then. (Keep in mind that Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind had been released just a few months before Project hit the airwaves....hoping to catch the wave.)

The final episode of Project U.F.O. landed in July of 1979.

Jean Chrétien on Pot

"I don't know what is marijuana. Perhaps I will try it when it will no longer be criminal. I will have my money for my fine and a joint in the other hand."

I wonder....

Jean Chrétien on Pierre Trudeau's Dream

"Pierre Trudeau dreamed of a society that afforded all of its citizens an equal opportunity to succeed in life -- whatever their background or beliefs, whether rich or poor."

That should not be a "dream", but Trudeau was right to believe in fairness to all.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Jean Chrétien on Being On Guard

"A successful politician must not only be able to read the mood of the public, he must have the skill to get the public on his side. The public is moved by mood more than logic, by instinct more than reason, and that is something that every politician must make use of or guard against."

Some politicians don't guard against "that"; not only do they make use of that, they welcome it. Hence: Trump and Ford.

Jean Chrétien on What a Leader Must Know

"A leader has to know how the system functions -- not just the system of government but the whole social and economic system, including business, the unions, and the universities."

The man of some intellect would know. (Ontario Premier Doug Ford is in for a tough time.)

Friday, November 2, 2018

Jean Chrétien on the Governmental Blame Game

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans."

That reminds me of someone in particular, but he probably would not blame the Americans.

Jean Chrétien on Canadian Federalism

"Canadian federalism is more than a form of government. It's also a system of values that allows different people in diverse communities to live and work together in harmony for the good of all."

The former prime minister, and man of many governmental portfolios, of this great country would know.

Jean Chrétien on TVO's The Agenda

Jean Chrétien, the 20th prime minister of Canada, was a special guest on TVO's superlative public affairs program The Agenda this past Tuesday evening. It was great seeing him again. "The Little Guy from Shawinigan" (Le p'tit gars de Shawinigan) was as direct and honest as ever as he took questions from show host Steve Paikin. At 84 years of age Chretien still carries the passions he so often exhibited during his long political life.

Monsieur Chrétien promotes his new book "Jean Chrétien: My Stories, My Times". To me it sounds like a good read.

TVO The Agenda: "A Storied Prime Minister"

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Why Does One Enlist in Wartime?

In eleven days, on the 11th of this month, the 11th month, we must remember those who went to war and did not come home.

My own father went to war but came back.

The following, a posting I wrote two years ago, is the story about why he volunteered to fight overseas during World War II:

Last night I watched a fine feature length documentary on WWII. Produced by the National Geographic Channel, "Inside WWII" overviews, in the hyper-speed mode so typical of info-dump docs made these days, the 20th century's largest conflict.

Some of the interview subjects explain why they joined the war. I remember the day in 1984 when I finally got around to asking my own father why he enlisted and why he chose RAF Bomber Command:

"I was pissed off. I was doing poorly in school and my mind was on the war overseas."

His rationale for joining the bomber force as a gunner was expedient:

"You got overseas quickly that way . . . It was an eight-week air gunners' course in Montreal."

(He knew that flying as "aircrew" in Bomber Command was dangerous work. Many young men, men too young, got "The Chop".)

As was the norm at the time in this neck of the woods my dad was sent to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) grounds for dispersal. From that famous Canadian site began the process of getting "shipped overseas", but as this was wartime it wasn't quite that easy. German U-boats roamed the North Atlantic in search of prey, and a steamer loaded with fresh faces was a prime and highly-prized target.

I will stop here: The above bits and pieces are stressful enough, never mind the few combat stories my dad did let out over the years. (While on one of my trips to England, as part of my ongoing research on RAF Bomber Command I spoke with historian Martin Middlebrook and he gave me some sage advice which I understood too well: "Don't ask your father. He won't tell you anything.")

A few years after the war ended he joined the RCAF and enjoyed a long career with Canada's finest service.

I left the best for last; the big "and" part of my dad's explanation for wanting to see action overseas:

"... And I wanted to get the Germans."

(A childhood friend did not come home; he died when his bomber was shot down over France. Kinda sobering, ain't it?)

Passions of the time, those were.

My father loved Germany and the Germans. We moved to West Germany in October of 1966, just twenty-one years after he flew in a Lancaster bomber doing a job he felt he must do.

Royal Air Force No. 626 Squadron - May 1945